Covid-19 spreads among police force

Hundreds of Indian policemen have tested positive for the coronavirus in recent days, raising alarm among members of the overstretched force trying to enforce the world's largest lockdown to contain the pandemic.

Some three million policemen are trying to ensure that the vast majority of India's 1.3 billion people stay home.

TV footage early in the crisis showed policemen beating back migrant workers as they tried to board city buses to reach their villages, making a mockery of social distancing.

India has been under lockdown since March 25 and confirmed nearly 50,000 coronavirus cases and more than 1,600 deaths.

A senior officer in Maharashtra said the number of cases had nearly doubled in the police force there in the last week. Maharashtra, the hardest-hit state, has reported more than 15,000 infections.

"More than 450 people from the state police force have now tested positive and four have died due to the virus," the officer said.

Control rooms are being set up exclusively to deal with health issues faced by policemen in Maharashtra, according to the state's Home Minister Anil Deshmukh.

Police fired tear gas at a crowd of protesting migrant workers in the neighbouring state of Gujarat this week.

In Delhi, police baton-charged hundreds queuing at liquor stores allowed to reopen as the authorities relaxed the lockdown to revive the economy.

Last month, doctors had to reattach the severed hand of a policeman who was assaulted while trying to enforce the lockdown in Punjab.

Six senior police officers in at least six states said dozens of policemen in their jurisdictions are seeking sick leave, fearing that they will otherwise become infected.

A central Home Ministry official said it is aware of the matter.

"Patrolling and crowd control in Covid-19-affected areas is becoming more dangerous than fighting criminals," said Mumbai policeman Salunkhe, who wanted to give only his last name. "At least in those cases, we can see the enemy."

In Gujarat, at least 155 police officers and some paramilitary personnel have been infected, according to a senior officer.

The police commissioner of the state's main city, Ahmedabad, said that 95 police and paramilitary personnel have been hospitalised with Covid-19.

The city ordered all shops, except those providing milk and medicines, to close from midnight on Wednesday until May 15, implementing a stricter lockdown than the national one in place since March 25 in an effort to curb the spike in infections.

Ahmedabad accounts for more than two-thirds of coronavirus cases in Gujarat and about three-quarters of its deaths, according to government data.

Five more companies of paramilitary forces will be deployed to further tighten security in the containment zones in Ahmedabad, Gujarat's highest-ranking police officer said.

Three companies are already in place, he said.

A senior central Home Ministry officer said he feared that thousands more policemen could test positive and spread the virus among their families in police housing estates.

Reuters

"Patrolling and crowd control in Covid-19-affected areas is becoming more dangerous than fighting criminals. At least in those cases, we can see the enemy." - Mumbai policeman Salunkhe

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